Family Vacation - Driving from Chicago to Orlando
Driving from Naperville, Illinois to Orlando, Florida
We have been to Orlando, Florida for the last three years.
On our second trip to Orlando, we drove from Naperville, Illinois. The year before we flew on United Airlines and this year we flew on Southwest. This page depicts our driving trip, some things we saw along the way, somes tools we used to get from Naperville to Orlando, and my usual ramblings along the way.
We don't take the normal driving routes to Florida, we look for fun things to see along the way or stop and do. We normally try to visit some type of cave or historic battlefield. This trip provided one of each.
This lens was selected as Lens of the Day on August 3rd, 2010.
this starts months, maybe even a year ahead of time
We vacationed in Orlando, FL last year and decided we wanted to vacation there again the following year.
There are some must answer questions when deciding on a vacation:
1. Where do you want to go? Orlando
2. When do you plan for the vacation? Late July or Early August
3. How long do you want to stay there? 4-7 days
4. What do you want to see while there? This will help determine the length of stay.
5. How are you going to get there? Drive from Chicago to Orlando
These are the big questions. Once you answer these questions, you can start planning your trip. For example, we knew we wanted to go to Universal Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, we knew we were going after the end of our childrens summer sports and before the next school year started. We were driving and there were other things to do if we could extend our stay.
In January, we started looking for deals to the various places we wanted to go, deals for park admissions, combo hotel/park admissions, all-inclusivies, etc. We ended up with a Universal package that include 5 nights at a hotel and park admissions to Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
The year before, we found cheap flights on United Airlines and decided to fly down, we then rented a house with a pool, and bought our tickets online.
6. If Drive, how many days will you take? 2-3 days
7. Can you see everything? No, probably not. So we made a list and prioritized.
8. Where are you going to stay? Hotel, Motel, Friends House. Check out HotelsCombined and Search multiple sites at the same time.
- Family Vacation - Driving Around Lake Michigan
Traveling around Lake Michigan for vacation is one of my dream vacations. There are many places to visit in the four states that touch Lake Michigan.
When driving, plan your route ahead of time, but be flexible...
We've done the driving thing once before, and I planned the whole trip out. Tools like GoogleMaps and MapQuest are great when doing this. This trip to Orlando, we decided we would have city goals and determine where we wanted to stop along the way. Good thing we did!
One question you have to answer as a family is how long do you want to drive per day, and it is a family question. Our family can handle 5-8 hours of driving per day. On an 18 hour trip to Orlando, that means two stops. The question is where do you stop and when. When we stop, we try to stop somewhere we know we will do something the next morning before driving again. We do like to SEE AMERICA!
We don't necessarily take the most direct route, because part of the fun of driving is seeing America. Whether it's a cavern or cave in the mountains, or the 20 foot Superman statue in Metropolis, IL, it is a lot of fun to go off the beaten path.
For this trip on the way to Orlando, Florida, we were planning to stop in Knoxville, Tennessee, Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida (This stop was necessary do to the fact our hotel reservations in Orlando were from Tuesday thru Sunday and we started our trip on Saturday.) It also made sense, since we stopped and visited family in Jacksonville and didn't have to stay in a hotel.
On the way home to Naperville, Illinois we were planning to stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Metropolis, Illinois.
Places to Stop Between Chicago and Orlando
Here are some of the places we have stopped between Chicago and Orlando:
1. Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia
2. Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee
3. Metropolis, Illinois (home of Superman)
4. Elijah Gem Mine in Hendersonville, North Carolina
5. Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee
6. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home and Final Resting Place in Atlanta, Georgia
Be prepared, If you don't have one of these...
On Friday night before leaving on our trip, we drove down to my wife's parents house and they surprised us with a Garmin NUVI. If you don't have a navigation system in your car or don't already have one, go get one.
The Garmin NUVI not only helps you with your route, it also allows you to look for restaurants when your hungry, or hotels when you are ready to stop.
The navigation was almost perfect, a couple of times it did say go the wrong direction, but this was mainly in construction zones. You want to know for the most part, where you are going and the Garmin will help you get there.
As for the Garmin, I was very please with the size of the screen, the directions, and how up to date the information was. The model we have only has a car adapter, so you can only charge the battery through the car.
I'm not sure how we would have done the trip without it, and it was worth every penny.
If you have kids, Make sure you have one of these
We have had our portable DVD player for years and just love it for long trips. If you don't have one in your vehicle, there are many portable models. We have four children so a dual screen system to allow everyone in the van to see the movie is a must. The screens hang from the back of the seats and provide a great distraction on the long trips.
Check out these places to stop between Naperville, IL and Orlando, FL
First Stop ... Gem Mining
If you haven't done this, take and hour or two and stop at a Gem mine...
I was planning to get closer to Knoxville than I did, so we didn't end up Gem Mining until the end of the second day instead of the beginning of the second day.
The reason we didn't end up closer, was a flat tire. UGH!!! It's 6pm at night, it's been raining for about an hour, we had already stopped to eat, so I was ready to make it to Knoxville. As I'm going down the mountain or up the mountain, I couldn't really tell in the rain in Kentucky, the low tire pressure light illuminates. So being a guy, I continue to drive, and then it downpours, and I decide, it's time to stop for the night. So we pull into the hotel, and I get out of the van, and walk around, and yep, the indicator wasn't lying, there's the tire half flag hissing away. Now being Saturday evening in London, Kentucky, and raining, I'm glad I have my Toyota Roadside Assistance plan. I call them up and they send out a service to change my flat. (Note that the Roadside plans don't fix things) After my tire was changed, did I mention it was raining, I asked the guy if he knew where I could get the tire fixed or replaced. Long story short, I followed the guy back to his shop and they fixed my flat and remounted the tire. After I paid the guy $10 for fixing the flat, and tipped him $10 for doing it on a Saturday night, and tipped the guy that originally came out another $10 for changing my tire in the rain, I felt pretty good about the whole experience. So if your ever in London, Kentucky and need some help with your vehicle, look up the guys at >>> <<<<
The next day, we are off to the Elijah Mountain Gem Mine near Asheville, North Carolina. If you've never been Gem Mining, here's the concept, you get a bucket of dirt and using water, you wash all the dirt off and what is left should be, rocks and gems and things. You never know what your going to get and sometimes you get nothing. So, if you don't want to get nothing, then you go to Elijah's, where they have premade buckets with gems already in them. They also have buckets with Indian Artifacts and Fossils. Not really prospecting here, but the kids have a lot of fun as the sand sifts away and they see multi-colored gemstones. This stop was a few miles off of the expressway into Asheville. Other gem mines are off the beaten path a ways, so it depends on how much time you have to get to your next destination.
Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia
A Civil War Fort
Being from the Chicagoland area and being of Polish decent, the chicagoland area celbrates Casimir Pulaski day, when I found Fort Pulaski in Savannah, Georgia, it was a no brainer to stop.
Casimir Pulaski was a General in the American Revolutionary War. Fort Pulaski was built by the Confederate Army prior to the Civil War.
Fort Pulaski will take you about 2 hours to walk through, they have a lot of civil war cannons on the premises and they do fire cannons and have exhibitions almost every day. The $10 yearly pass was well worth the entry into this National Monument.
For more information, visit the National Park Service site on Fort Pulaski.
If you have the time and like the old Forts, you pass Fort Jackson on the way to Fort Pulaski.
Pictures from Fort PulaskiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee - we love exploring caves
We love caves. This year on the way home from Orlanda, Florida we stopped in Chattanooga, Tennessee at Ruby Falls. Ruby Falls is a waterfall that is under the mountain. The only way to get to it is by taking an elevator 200 feet under the earth and walking about 2/5 of a mile to the water fall. Of course, this is all part of a tour that takes you there.
For more information about visit the Ruby Falls website.
If enclosed places frightens you, just take a look at the pictures below.
Home of the giant Superman Statue
So, I must admit, I planned the stop here, just to see the 20 foot Superman statue. Metropolis, Illinois.
Besides the statue, there is a Superman store in Metropolis. The store has a lot of Superman memorabilia and a small Superman Museum. The second weekend of every June is devoted to the annual Superman celebration. And the current website shows a picture of President Barak Obama posed with Superman.
Metropolis, Illinois is located on the Ohio river on Interstate 24 just north of Paducah, Kentucky. Metropolis has a casino and not too far is Fort Massac. If I were the Metropolis chamber of commerce, I would look to have a statue of every super hero and a store for every super hero. Who wouldn't want to visit the Wonder Women store, or a store dedicated to Aquaman, Batman and Robin, or the Green Lantern.
Yes, the Superman statue and store were well worth the stop in Metropolis, Illinois.
Pictures from Metropolis, IllinoisClick thumbnail to view full-size
Country Music Hall of Fame
In 2012, on our drive to Orlando, Florida, we stopped at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We are a family of country music fans, so stopping here was a no brainer. It took us about two hours to explor the Hall of Fame, but without kids, we probably could have taken another two hours. We happened to be their during the Taylor Swift exhibit, which was just awesome. The Elvis Presley Gold Cadillac is a must see, along with the silver dollar car.
Seeing the evolution of country music and how it evolved from radio to television was fastinating. They had a great montage of country music stars and the evolution from being an act in a show to being the whole show such as Hee Haw and Donnie and Marie.
For country music fans, this is a must see on the way to Florida.
Pictures from the Country Music Hall of Fame - Nashville, TNClick thumbnail to view full-size
Martin Luther King Childhood Home and Final Resting Place
In 2012, we also stopped at the MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. On the site is the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr preached along with his father and grandfather. Also on the site is the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta King Scott.
When you first walk into the complex, you are greeted with statue of Gandhi, and come to learn that Martin Luther King, Jr. studied peaceful demonstrations under Gandhi in India. The visitors center is a great place to see the timeline of when Martin Luther King, Jr. started his demonstrations to his untimely death and funeral procession.
Pictures from MLK Historic Site - Atlanta, GeorgiaClick thumbnail to view full-size
100 Flavors of Popcorn
As we travel, we are always looking for something unique that you don't find at every exit of the highway. Just over the Tennessee line in Calhoun, Georgia, we found a store that sells over one hundred flavors of popcorn called Popcorn Haven. When we stopped, we tried the dark chocolate popcorn, the white cheddar popcorn, and the cola popcorn. I liked the cola popcorn the best as the flavor reminded me of the cola bottlecaps. My kids however, liked the chocolate popcorn. The popcorn was excellent and with over 97 other flavors to try, we will be stopping there again.
What we have done in Orlando, Florida
Places to go in Orlando Florida
This was our second trip to Orlando, Florida. The first time we flew and rented a house with a pool. The second trip we drove. The following are the places we have been to, in and around Orlando. If I had to rate the places in order, this is what I would do
#1 - Sea World
#2 - Animal Kingdom in Disney World
#3 - Kennedy Space Center
#4 - Florida Beaches
#5 - Universal Studios at Universal or Hollywood Studios at Disney
#6 - Magic Kingdom in Disney World
#7 - Islands of Adventure at Universal
#8 - Wet N Wild
Sea World in Orlando, Florida
I have come to the conclusion that we are animal people. Being animal people, Sea World is probably our favorite place to visit in Orlando, Florida. Between the shows and the rides, what a great experience. We had dinner with Shamoo one evening, which is a great dinner show without leaving the park.
Disney World in Florida
We have visited three parks in Disney World and never have stayed on site. The three parks we visite were Magic Kingdom in 2008, Animal Kingdom in 2009, and Hollywood Studios in 2010. Being animal people, I would have to say Animal Kingdom is our second favorite attraction in Orlando, Florida, with Hollywood Studios being our second favorite park.
For the younger kids, ages 2 thru 8, Magic Kingdom would be my preferred choice.
Disney really knows what they are doing with the Fast Pass system. It's a great solution for those long lines. Another solution for the long lines is pin trading, so make sure to invest in a pin album and stock up on some pins.
The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World
My daughter enjoyed this book and said it is a must read before visiting any of the Disney World parks in Orlando, Floriday.
Kennedy Space Center
This is probably my third favorite attraction near Orlando, Florida. The buses out to see the launch pads and Apollo spacecraft are just sensational. And don't miss the Launch Experience which was a lot of fun.
The Florida Beaches
We have visited two beaches in Florida. Daytona Beach since we wanted the experience of driving on a beach, and a beach just south of Sebastian Inlet State Park.
For the kids, they didn't care, they just love the ocean, the sand, the waves, boogie boards, swimming, looking for seashells.
If you like crowds and people watching, Daytona Beach is for you.
If you don't like crowds, travel south of Coco Beach down 1A and pick a beach. The beach we went to was on 1A just after Sebastian Inlet State Park. There's a small public parking area with beach access.
Universal in Orlando, Florida
This year, we visited three Universal parks in Orlando, Florida:
Islands of Adventure
Wet N Wild.
We had a great time at each, but the parks are definitely geared towards those folks that spend the extra money to stay at the Universal resorts or buy their Express Pass. Definitely factor in the Express Pass into your budget, if not, I wouldn't bother with these parks. Disney definitely has a leg up with their FastPass system.
I think the kids liked Islands of Adventure, whereas I preferred Universal Studios. So, I guess, I couldn't pick one.
Websites that offer great hotel deals
Hotelscombined.com compares over 30 sites for hotels in and around Disney and Orlando, Florida.